Our Treasures And Crowns

 

Treasures in heaven

 

In Matthew 6:20, 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33 and 18:22, Jesus taught that we can receive “treasure(s) in heaven”. Treasures can be:

 

         merited or earned

         received as free gifts on the condition we fulfil certain stated conditions or

         received as unconditional free gifts.

 

In the context of Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22, the “treasure in heaven” is the free gift of eternal life which is received on the condition of surrendering all ourselves and our possessions to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Note the broader context of these three verses is Matthew 19:16-29, Mark 10:17-30 and Luke 18:18-30 which refer to receiving eternal life.

Note especially Matthew 19:16, 19:29, Mark 10:17, 10:30, Luke 18:18 and 18:30 mention eternal life. Matthew 19:21, 19:29, Mark 10:21, 10:29, Luke 18:22 and 18:29 relate to surrendering to and following Jesus as Lord or King. Note in Mark 10:29, Christ links such surrender to the Gospel and in Luke 18:29 to the Kingdom of God.

 

Believers have a treasure now

 

In 2 Corinthians 4:6-7, Paul refers to this same treasure being in believers’ hearts in this earthly life: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of the darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

In verse 7, Paul says “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. In Greek, the phrase “we have” is in the present tense. The present tense here signifies we have this treasure in a continuous ongoing sense now. In context, this treasure is God, the light of His Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 4:4) and His glory in our hearts. Through the Gospel, God and His eternal glory and life by His Spirit dwells in our hearts continuously now.

 

2 Controversial verses

 

Matthew 6:20 and Luke 12:33 are controversial. This is because there are two possible interpretations of these verses [1]:

1.       The first possibility is Matthew 6:20 and Luke 12:33 are not referring to eternal life but relate to rewards in heaven when they mention “treasure(s) in heaven”. Note neither of these verses or their surrounding contexts mention eternal life. Matthew 6:19-20 says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Note also Matthew 6:19-20 immediately follows Jesus’ Words about believers receiving rewards in heaven for their fasting.

In Luke 12:33, Jesus stated: “Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.” It is impossible for this verse to be teaching that we receive eternal life by selling our possessions and giving them to the poor. Such a conclusion would mean we can legalistically merit eternal life by giving money to the poor even if we have no living faith in Christ and have not repented of our known sins.

2.       The second possibility is that Matthew 6:20 and Luke 12:33 refer to one result of the type of change in heart attitude – repentance – that those who have turned in faith to God the Supreme King, experience. Note Luke 12:33 is in the context of Jesus’ Words in Luke 12:13-34 which refer to either seeking God’s Kingdom or Lordship (see verse 31) or being ruled by our own will and desires (see verses 15-21 and 30-34). Matthew 6:20 is in a similar context (see Matthew 6:19-34).

We do not become a member of God’s Kingdom by just giving to the poor. But one fruit or result of receiving God as our King or Lord is having a loving, giving attitude to the needy (see Romans 12:13, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15 and Hebrews 13:16). [2]

So this second possible interpretation of Luke 12:33 says this verse in its surrounding context shows that those who are seeking God’s Kingdom by His grace through faith and accompanying repentance will have a changed attitude to their possessions. They will regard them as God’s and to be used as He leads in His expressions of love.

 

Believers’ crowns – free gifts or merited rewards

 

On a number of occasions, the New Testament refers to believers in Jesus Christ receiving crowns from God. 1 Corinthians 9:25 refers to an “imperishable crown”. 1 Peter 5:4 mentions “the crown of glory” and Revelation 3:11 “your crown”. James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10 refer to “the crown of life” and 2 Timothy 4:8 “the crown of righteousness”. In Greek, the word “crown” used in the above verses are various forms of the word “stephanos”.

The Greek word “stephanos” sometimes meant “the victor’s crown, the symbol of triumph in the games or some such contest; hence…a reward or prize”. [3] Paul used a form of this word in the context of competing in games in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Because of these facts, someone may conclude that God’s glory, eternal life and righteousness can be received as merited rewards for good works. But the weaknesses of the above conclusion can be seen in the following.

The first humans were crowned as an unmerited free gift

 

Hebrews 2:7 shows that when God originally created humans, He crowned them with glory and honor: “You made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor.” This crowning was an unmerited free gift and not a deserved reward.

 

Salvation and righteousness are free gifts

 

In Titus 3:5, Paul said we are saved by God’s undeserved mercy and “not by works of righteousness”. We do not receive a crown of righteousness by works of righteousness as a totally merited reward. Righteousness is a free gift of God given by His grace.

Romans 5:17 refers to the “gift of righteousness”. In Greek, the word “gift” in this verse is a form of the word “dorea” which means “a gift, free gift…” [4] or “a free gift, stressing its gratuitous character”. [5] “Gratuitous” means “free, granted without claim or merit”. [6]

 

Crowns are not always merited rewards or earned prizes

 

The Greek word “stephanos” does not only mean a merited reward or earnt prize. It can also refer to “a token of public honor…,of nuptial joy or festal gladness, especially at the parousia of kings”[7]. “Nuptial joy” means “the joy of the wedding day”. “Parousia” means “the presence or arrival”.

Louw and Nida say “stephanos” in some contexts means “a wreath consisting either of foliage or of precious metals formed to resemble foliage and worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office”. [8] In Revelation 4:4, “stephanos” is used for the “crown” of authority of the elders who sat on thrones around God’s throne.

Mark 15:17 uses a form of the word “stephanos” in relation to the crown of thorns which the Roman soldiers put on Jesus’ head. This crown signified the type of honor and ruling authority they sinfully attributed to Him. In this verse, “stephanos” is not referring to a reward.

 

Only Christ merited His crown

 

Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 2:26, 3:21 and 20:4 reveal that believers in Christ will be honoured as kings sitting on thrones, ruling the nations and judging unbelievers at the Final Judgement under Christ's authority.

As the perfect human, Jesus Christ has won a crown for Himself. Hebrews 2:9 says: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor…” Through His death, Christ expressed perfect love towards God and all other humans. As a result, He perfectly merited receiving the crown which signified He was appointed as King of kings.

Revelation 14:14 also refers to Christ's golden crown or “stephanos”. As God-appointed King of kings and representative of the human race, Christ by unmerited grace and mercy gives a crown to all believers. This gift of a crown is symbolic of the fact Christ will give them part of His ruling authority as a gift. In Revelation 3:21, the Lord mentions this: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Jesus Christ totally deserves to have a crown and rule. Believers receive this crown and a delegated measure of His ruling authority as a undeserved free gift.

 

Israel and Jerusalem received crowns as unmerited gifts

 

Revelation 12:1 refers to the nation of Israel as the “woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” In Isaiah 26:17, 54:5-6, Jeremiah 4:31, 6:2 and Micah 4:9-10, Israel is called a woman. Israel was comprised of twelve tribes. In Genesis 37:9, Joseph had a similar dream about Israel being represented by the sun, the moon and eleven stars. The eleven stars were symbols of Joseph’s eleven brothers. (Joseph was the twelfth star.)

In His great mercy and grace, God gave a crown to the nation of Israel even though they did not deserve or merit it.

In Ezekiel 16:1-14, God reveals He gave a crown to the people of Jerusalem even though they did not merit it at all. Read this passage. In verse 12, God told the people of Jerusalem: “And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.” The whole context of Ezekiel 16:1-14 is God’s mercy and grace in giving a crown and other marvellous gifts to those who do not deserve it.

 

Being crowned by God’s kindness and mercies

 

Psalm 103:4 says: “Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” Here we see God crowns us on the basis of His unmerited lovingkindness and mercy.

 

Kings’ crowns were not always merited or deserved

 

Throughout history, the crowns which were given to kings were not always merited or deserved rewards for character and/or actions. Many kings received their crowns as either:

 

a.       free gifts conditional on the fulfilment of some action. For example, many children have become kings on the sole condition they are the oldest sons in a royal family.

b.       unconditional free gifts.

 

The crowns which believers receive are conditional on completing the “race” of faith (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8), finishing “the good fight” of faith (see 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8), and enduring or persisting in faith under the pressures of temptation and testings (see James 1:12 and Revelation 2:11).

 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8

 

Because in context 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 4:7-8 refer to believers receiving crowns as prizes for competing in a race or a fight, we can mistakenly conclude believers’ heavenly crowns are merited rewards for good works. But when we take these verses in context and interpret them in agreement with what Paul and other New Testament writers wrote about the same topics elsewhere, we see believers’ crowns are received by faith and are not merited by good works.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul refers to running in a race, fighting a fight and winning a prize and crown. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul again refers to fighting a fight, running a race and winning a crown. But note in verse 7, he reveals that fighting “the good fight” and finishing “the race” equals keeping “the faith”. In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul associates fighting the good fight of faith with laying hold on eternal life: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 associates running “with endurance the race that is set before us” and “looking unto Jesus” in the context of Him being “the author and finisher of our faith”. Matthew 10:22, 24:13 and Mark 13:13 refer to being saved if we endure to the end. 1 Timothy 2:12 mentions reigning with Christ if we endure. James 2:12 says we will receive a crown of life if we endure.

But note 2 Thessalonians 1:4 and Hebrews 11:27 reveal we endure by faith. Hebrews 10:36-39 teaches we will receive God’s promises and the salvation of our souls if we endure by faith: “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”

We are continuously saved and have eternal life only if we continuously believe in Christ. Evidence of this is in 1 Corinthians 15:2, John 3:15, 3:16, 5:24 and 1 John 5:13. Note the phrase “you hold fast” in 1 Corinthians 15:2 and “believe” in the latter four verses are in the present tense in Greek. Usually in Greek, the present tense signifies the ongoing nature of the action.

Someone may argue, “In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul uses a form of the word “apodidimi” in relation to “the crown of righteousness” the Lord will give to believers”. “Apodidimi” means “render, reward, recompense” [9] in the context of Matthew 6:4, 6:6, 6:18, 16:27 and Revelation 22:12.

But note in other contexts, “apodidimi” refers to free gifts and not merited rewards. “Apodidimi” means simply “give away, give up, give out” in Matthew 27:58, “give” in Acts 4:33 and “yield” in Revelation 22:2. [10] In Acts 4:33 and Revelation 22:2, “apodidimi” is used in the context of God’s unmerited grace.

Revelation 22:1-2 refers to the “river of water of life” and an associated “tree of life” which grew on the river’s banks. This tree yielded or gave fruit for healing. Note in Revelation 21:6 and 22:17 refer to God giving believers of the “water of life” as a free gift. In Greek, the word “freely” in both of these verses is “dorean”. In these verses, “dorean” means “as a gift, without payment”. [11]

Because righteousness is a free gift and related to God’s unmerited grace (see Romans 5:17) and “apodidimi” is used in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 in the context of faith, I believe Paul uses “apodidimi” in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 to mean to give as a free gift and not as a merited reward.

Revelation 3:11 teaches that if we hold fast to what we have in Christ, we will receive a crown from Him: “Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” In Greek, the phrase “hold fast” is a form of the word “krateo” which means in this context hold fast, keep hold of something that belongs to oneself, so that it cannot be taken away from him”. [12] Another form of “krateo” is used in Revelation 2:13 when Jesus associates holding fast to His Name and not denying our faith: “…And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” Jesus’ Name represents all Jesus Christ is. Holding fast to our crowns is done by faith which results in good works and not by faith plus good works.

 

 


 


[1] In Greek, the word “treasure” in Matthew 6:20, 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33 and 18:22 is the word “thesauros” in its various forms. “Thesauros” means different things in different contexts. It can also refer to the heart (see Matthew 12:35), a treasure container (see Matthew 2:11), a storehouse (see Matthew 13:52) or God’s precious wisdom and knowledge in Christ (see Colossians 2:3).

[2] Refer to the section “Myth 14” in Chapter                          “Myths about eternal life and justification” for discussion about Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. In these verses, Paul teaches similarly to this second possible interpretation of Matthew 6:20 and Luke 12:33.

[3] Vine, page 139.

[4] Perschbacher, page 109.

[5] Vine, page 264.

[6] Modern Home Dictionary, page 448.

[7] Vine, page 139.

[8] Louw and Nida , page 76.

[9] Bauer, page 90.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid, page 210.

[12] Ibid, page 448.

 

 


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